Decarcerate PA Launches Platform, Prepares for Push

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Last night a coalition of over sixty organizations and hundreds of individuals gathered to formally launch an ambitious campaign — to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania. "Decarcerate PA" was initiated by ex-prisoners, prisoners families, and allies who are convinced that mass incarceration does far more harm than good.

DecarceratePA is taking its message to Governor Corbett on April 5th:
3pm- Governor Corbett’s Philly office (200 S. Broad St.)
4pm- Criminal Justice Center (1301 Filbert St.)
5pm- Love Park (15th St. & JFK)


Their 3-point platform outlines how state funds should be redirected from new prison and detention center construction into public schools, jobs and job training, critical safety net services, and non-punitive programs to address the root cause of violence. The coalition held an initial rally in August and plans another rally for April 5th.



"At a time when many other states across the country are exploring ways to shrink their prison population and close unnecessary facilities, Pennsylvania is moving in the opposite direction," writes Decarcerate PA. "Governor Corbett intends to spend $685 million to expand the state’s already massive prison system. This money will fund the construction of three new state prisons and expand nine others. It will add 8,000 new beds to our prison system at a time when the governor cut $951 million in education spending, along with massive cuts to a host of other essential programs and services. We believe this is unacceptable, and so we came together to fight the proposed expansions."


So far, chapters are organized in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Participating organizations include Reconstruction Inc, Institute for Community Justice, Human Rights Coalition, and two organizations at SCI-Grateford -- the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 466 (Graterford) and the Villanova Alumnae Association at Graterford.




A New Yorker piece provides historical context: 

In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.
The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education.

How did we get here?

There’s an essentially Northern explanation, focussing on the inheritance of the notorious Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, and its “reformist” tradition; and a Southern explanation, which sees the prison system as essentially a slave plantation continued by other means.



Rich Gardner attended the event on Friday and filed the following report:

Yes, the DecarceratePA program has only been around for just a year, but was able to sign up in excess of 70 organizations who supported that nights' celebration and the goals of DecarceratePA in general. The goal is “Build Communities, Not Prisons!” Six activists gathered together a year ago and jointly decided that Governor Corbett's plan to spend $685 million to expand several prisons and construct a few new ones was a really bad idea. There are many better uses that Pennsylvanians could put that money towards, especially as education in our state is taking a $500 million hit at the same time. Presumably, that means we're spending less to educate our youth in order to pay for some increased prison capacity.

We had the head of the American Civil Liberties Union – Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) speak. Very fortunately, ACLU-PA will be fully behind efforts to decarcerate in PA because that's his personal priority and well, he runs that organization. He felt “Overincarceration has reached epidemic proportions.” He pointed out the many problems that over-imprisonment of citizens causes the larger community and that reacting to low-impact crimes and misdemeanors by putting the offenders in jail is really a bad overreaction that takes people needlessly out of the community and puts them into places where they can no longer contribute.


Does it help anybody to keep filling the prisons? Another speaker told us that he explained to a Councilperson how privately-run prisons reap enormous profits from having on their premises, essentially, slave labor. The Councilperson was unaware of this, meaning that in general, private citizens are probably unaware of that aspect of the problem as well. The list of organizations that provided speakers to the event were One Love Movement, And Justice For All, Hearts On A Wire, Community College of Philadelphia Teacher's Union, Reconstruction, Youth Arts and Self-Empowerment Project and the Campaign for Non-Violent Schools, in addition to the above-mentioned ACLU-PA.

Speakers pointed out that mass incarceration is now the new Jim & Jane Crow and that the War on Drugs is an essentially anti-poor and anti-black policy. Speakers felt that our system as a whole is designed to divide us. A dispute arose in one of my conversations with a fellow member of an anti-war group when I referred to the “working and the middle classes.” He was a Communist and insisted that all non-owners of the means of production were working class and that there was no such group as the middle class. Are the two terms nothing more than an effort to divide the people or do they denote real and meaningful differences? Food for thought, I think.


Pennsylvania has more juveniles serving life sentences than any other state. The PA Department of Corrections has approximately 16,000 employees and more than 51,000 inmates. One of our speakers pointed out that telephone companies provide on 47 cents for every dollar that's paid on phone calls back to the Department of Corrections. There's a lot of money floating around in the prison industry and no one has a clear idea of where all that money goes, but prisoners themselves say that spending millions to expanding prisons does nothing to help them. All the benefits from expanding prisons go elsewhere.

State Senator Greenleaf is sponsoring Senate Bill 100 (PDF) that DecarceratePA approves of as well as Greenleaf's Senate Bill 1153. DecarceratePA is looking for people to fill all kinds of positions within the organization. There's plenty to do for everybody! Please join the effort to reduce prisons in our state.


Photos by Baba Bob Shipman, text by Amy Dalton & Rich Gardner



Can't do the time...then DON"T do the crime...that simple. Education is already there and it's up to the parent/parents to be involved and direct their siblings to the RIGHT path for their future development instead of blaming others or institutions for their failures.

Jon Pisano
Justice for Officer Daniel Faulkner.com

The number of people behind bars has gone up, but

As the percentage of people behind bars has decreased in the past few years, violent crime rates have fallen as well. For those who believed that higher incarceration rates inevitably led to less crime, “this would also be the last time to expect a crime decline,” he said. [emphasis added]

NY Times

Jeffery Goldberg, a writer for Bloomberg News, considers the argument of Charles Murray and James Q. Wilson that more imprisonments are responsible for declining crime rates, but concludes that the decline in crime is due to better policing, which is in turn due to better police relations with citizens.

No, it's not a simple matter of people committing more crimes automatically leading to more people behind bars. I suspect our speakers were correct and that economic motives are causing more minor crimes and misdemeanours to result in jail sentences.

Progessives also punish

Almost all of us love to use punishment when we argue with each other about what is right and wrong.

George Zimmerman clearly should never have access to a gun again. He should be in some kind of supervised situation where his anger will never lead to him killing someone for as long as he is physically able to kill, not for as long as he lives. Fingering out how he could preform retribution would be difficult.

Jon Pisano, what is your take on George Zimmerman and those with similar personalities that want to be police officers. Though I guess the fact that Zimmerman couldn't get his dream job shows that some bad apples are screened out.

The major source of crime is prohibition. Crack is less harmful than the way long jail terms have empowered organized crime. I am not sure about Meth. Hitler was proud of German
science not only for its ability to breed people, but to create a super-drug for superman. Meth was available to workers at all large job sites. And athletics were expected to take it. Meth, not just Mein Kamp by itself lead to the holocaust. So perhaps long prison terms save more lives then if Meth became easily available.

Besides drugs most people are serving time for illegal guns. A mother allowing her boyfriend to buy or borrow her gun because her children need milk means children grow up without either parent. Now if Philadelphia wins its gun control fight with the state many more will be in ;jail for not reporting a friend or acquaintance stealing their guns. At the very minimum the law should read one must report a gun stolen only before one purchases another gun. It would be far easier to postpone buying a gun than to end up putting off reporting a stolen one until it is too late to do so and stay legal.

If we want less prisons we need to figure out how to arrange for people to spend less time behind bars for illegal guns.

Well Mr. kane

As to Zimmerman..I'm not one to condemn anyone until the facts are in unlike the Hollywood types and Sharpton and Jackson (Where's the camera). There are many brutal cases and this case, Zimmerman, is nothing compared to the brutal murders of Channon Christian and Cris Newsom. I'm not saying loss of life is nothing I'm speaking of the racial crap the media and the two I've mentioned put out there BEFORE all is known and PROVEN...not speculation.
Rich, I do agree with you as to crack and regular Coke...both are killers and should have equal weight as to punishment.

As to the gun issue...if any weapon is stolen, it should be reported immediately...period. If someone does not report same, I believe they should bare some responsibility.

As to Police wannabees...I have not read of Zimmermans hope of being a Police Officer. If the FACTS are clear that Zimmerman actions were within the law...there is no reason, under the law, that he should be denied his right to carry after review by professionals. Just my opinion

Jon Pisano
Justice for Officer Daniel failkner.com

hey there lying asshole Jews

Ever since my "dear friend" and others reported me as a "rabid anti-Semite" to the Jew World Shadow Tyranny back in the 90s and then an endless parade of SPLC spies started pouring out of the woodwork to stalk me, one thing that's been glaringly obvious is the way all of you keep trying to show me that "see, we Jews are okay after all, huh? You just never knew any nice Jews like us."

Uh, excuse me there lying asshole Jews: every time one of you "total strangers" comes at me having obviously seen my SPLC dossier
I don't care how how much you "toin on da chahm." Why is this so "hard" for you? Your total inability to notice how insane and creepy you are, it's just ... FUCKING MIND-BOGGLING!

To which your answer is obviously: "we're justified in doing such things because of Hittlah, waah sniv-vell..."
Look, FUCK. YOU.
You were doing this shit way before Hitler. Your real ancestors were clearly doing this shit 5,000 years ago when they were the kings of Mesopotamia. You have NEVER been "persecuted." When your previous victims rally against you and punish you, this is not "persecution," it's JUSTICE. There is a fucking DIFFERENCE. You're just totally invested in the fable of your "persecution" because criminally insane freaks ALWAYS find a way to believe they're "The Victims," duh.

Your total lack of moral sense is why God has committed you to the Ultimate Asylum for creepy batshit loon-jobs called "planet earth." You're never going to get out of here because you're obviously never going to put your inbred insane infinitely gigantic egos in second place behind Reality, which is only His manifest presence. Meanwhile I AM leaving, and there isn't a fucking thing you can do about it because God is better and greater than you in every way

He has seen that I possess the bonafides to depart: the humanity and clarity to know how hopelessly batshit nuts you are, and that He, for reasons of His own, must be letting you and your mom and dad, Lilith and Molech, have your way with this one shitty little fly-speck amidst Infinity. Therefore this world in toto, every one of its "life" demands, "norms," "causes," "options," etc., is just an endless maze of TRAPS you monsters have set out to keep fools and idiots chained in HELL alongside you, purely out of insane greed, malice, and envy. Ta-ta... Have fun "lording over" your grave...